Is Terrell Owens' baggage too heavy?

NFL: Fans, ex-teammates are split on whether the star's talents outweigh his tantrums.

March 14, 2004|By Brent Jones and John Eisenberg | Brent Jones and John Eisenberg,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - As Terrell Owens fights his trade to the Ravens, offering a crash course in what a royal pain he can be, the question is:

Is he worth the trouble?

Do his talents as a game-breaking receiver offset the many controversies he stimulates?

There isn't a clear consensus in the city where he played eight seasons for the 49ers.

In a canvass of players, team officials and fans, some believe he is worth the fuss and others think otherwise.

"If I had it my way, I would have liked for him to [still] be here," said Bryant Young, a 49ers defensive tackle and four-time Pro Bowl selection who has played with Owens since 1996.

Didn't Owens tear apart the team with his antics and finger-pointing, as some have suggested?

"I didn't see any instances where there was a total divide," Young said.

A differing opinion was evident in the comments of Rosalie Mello, president of the Goal Rushers, the largest 49ers fan club in the Bay Area with close to 200 members.

"What he was capable of doing was great," said Mello, a retired printer from Stockton, "but some people's mouths get in the way."

Joe Danielson, a longtime fan from Palo Alto, was even more succinct.

"He's not much of a team player," said Danielson, 55, who wore a 49ers sweater while eating dinner at the Old Pro barbecue restaurant. "On the whole, I think he did well with the 49ers. But I have to admit, my initial reaction [to the trade] was `good riddance,' because he does bring a lot of controversy. He was somebody that was too temperamental."

Danielson's mixed emotions were shared by many.

"I'm personally split," said Dan Manjarrze, general manager of the Rawlings All American Grille in San Mateo. "He's a playmaker, and he wins games. He won two or three games last year. Now that he's gone, it's going to lessen our wins, the amount of show on the field. But the other half is the overbearing attitude he has. Blowing up on the coach, that's crazy."

Production, problems

Owens, 30, caught 592 passes during eight seasons with the 49ers and made the Pro Bowl four times, so not even detractors could complain about his production. But he also criticized teammates, coaches and management, and generated several controversies with on-field antics.

Those antics didn't escape notice in the locker room.

"It was frustrating to go through those things last season," said 49ers offensive tackle Scott Gragg, a starter since the 2000 season. "But it was a frustrating season. [Owens] was just vocal in his frustration. I express myself differently, probably keep too many things in. And maybe he errs on the other side of that."

Gragg stressed that while he didn't know Owens well - "I probably said one sentence to him" - he didn't think the receiver was a locker room problem.

"He was not any more or any less vocal than anyone else," Gragg said. "He has a desire to win, a desire to be in the game. Even in pre-game warm-ups, I saw a guy doing everything possible to get ready to play. Then he would let his gifts be shown on the field and do some amazing things. His loss, I think, will be significant."

Like Gragg, Young characterized Owens as a relatively typical teammate, one who - believe it or not - didn't stand out.

"He kind of mingled with everybody. There wasn't one guy he hung out with the most," Young said. "The last two years, we've had bowling nights on Mondays, and he'd come and do that. I didn't know him as well as I would have liked. But I know him well enough from being around him for eight years. He's a great guy once you get to know him."

Harry Edwards, a University of California sociology professor who has worked for the 49ers for almost two decades, testing and counseling players, said Owens was "not a divisive influence in any way."

But Edwards did characterize Owens as a high-maintenance employee.

"He's not some out-of-control, madcap fool," Edwards said, "but the intensity he brings to the game he can also bring to other aspects of organization. You have to have a structure in place to handle that. Whether it's a coach or a staff member or whatever, someone's job needs to be managing him."

The 49ers struggled to do that in 2003, Edwards said, because the franchise was in transition with new ownership and a new coaching staff.

"T.O. had problems with the team and the organization, which is true of many players in every sport in any given year," said Edwards, a pioneer in the field of psychological testing in sports. "Maybe his intensity was inappropriate in some instances because this is just football, not politics. But I am sorry to see him go. I would have him on my team any time."

49ers general manager Terry Donahue and Bill Walsh, the team's former coach and current consultant, declined to speak for this article. 49ers head coach Dennis Erickson was on a scouting trip and unavailable.

Former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, now the coach of the Detroit Lions, also was scouting and unavailable to comment, according to the Lions' media relations office.

Antics get notice

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